The Food Column: A special tea, just for two

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It was New Year's Eve, two days before the end of Christmas break, and I had spent the morning yanking my kicking, clawing kids off each other and nagging my son to practice the piano. They seriously needed to go back to school. Or should I say, I seriously needed them to go back to school.

A trip to the library solved the problem for my son, who returned home with a stack of adventure graphic novels and disappeared into his bedroom for the afternoon.

I, meanwhile, was embroiled in making a New Year's pretzel and blogging about it for The Forks blog on, the Post-Gazette's interactive food site. I could hear the pitter-patter of my daughter's little bare feet bustling busily through the house -- why walk when you can run? -- but didn't really know what she was cooking up.

I had just clicked "send" when my daughter burst into the office, her face alight with smiles: "Mom! Come quick! Look!"

I followed her to the living room, where she had a tea party in full swing.

This might seem pretty ordinary for the average 7-year-old girl, but our daughter has autism, and pretending hasn't always come naturally for her. When she was a preschooler, we had to teach her, step by little step, what to do with baby dolls ("feed" them, rock them), toy cars (run them across the carpet, don't just sit there and spin the wheels) and other toys so she would one day have some chance of playing with other kids.

It was as if the tea party -- 100 percent her idea -- was some sort of rite of passage. She was so proud of herself. She'd been reading a "Fancy Nancy" book about tea parties, and apparently she'd decided that this was something she needed to do, too.

She had dragged her little table and chairs from her bedroom to the living room, found a beach towel for a tablecloth, made place cards for herself and her brother, put a jar of fake flowers in the center of the table, and set the table with two teacups and two leftover red paper plates from Christmas. She then copied Fancy Nancy's menu onto her white board easel: "Strawberries Supreme, Festive Fondue (fon-doo), Parfaits."

She even made her brother a special invitation with crayoned flowers: "Tea party! Come quick! I have something to show you! Andy! Your best friend: Beth."

The same best friend who was hollering at him all morning? No matter -- all was forgiven by now, apparently, in her mind. Definitely in mine.

Now, here was the problem: How do you get a 10-year-old boy to attend a tea party? I knew we could not let this herculean effort go unnoticed, not when it took so many endless hours of play therapy to get Beth to this point.

So I sweetened the pot a little. No sips of "air tea," but real refreshments for this high-class affair. The way to a 10-year-old boy's heart is through his stomach.

To my relief, Beth did not insist on being served "Strawberries Supreme, Festive Fondue (fon-doo) and Parfaits." Both kids settled for being the Official Tasters of the first two slices of New Year's pretzel (see here for the recipe: and a cup each of Capputeano (search for that word in my Dec. 20 column at Capputeano, with lots of milk and sugar and its cap of whipped cream, makes a more appealing tea party drink for kids than straight tea.

The morning of fighting notwithstanding, it turned out to be a pretty darn good Day-Before-the-Last-Day-of-Christmas-Break after all.


How Foods Fight Illness: Janet McKee, holistic health counselor, teaches about foods that fight cancer and diabetes, foods low in fat and high in fiber, dairy and meat alternatives, and other topics. 7 p.m. each Thursday from tonight through Jan. 31 at Upper St. Clair Library. $50. Register ahead: 412-835-5540.

Italian Prosciutto Making: This class will be held in three sessions (January, March and November). Initial session is from noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 19 at the American Italian Club in Aliquippa. $70 for one person, or $100 for two people sharing a single ham. Register by tomorrow. Details:

Carla Hall: The co-host of ABC Daytime's "The Chew" demos recipes and signs copies of her new book, "Cooking With Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You." 11:30 a.m. Jan. 19 at Giant Eagle Market District in Bethel Park, or 3 p.m. Jan. 19 at Market District in Pine. Free, but register ahead at

Wine dinner

Southern Italian Wine Dinner: Puttanesca shrimp, hand-made orecchiette with duck bresaola, blood orange sorbet, accompanying wines, limoncello and more. 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at Hartwood Restaurant. $60 per person. Reservations required. 412-767-3500.


Symphony of Food: Live entertainment, wine selections and signature courses prepared by chefs from Bella Sera, Giant Eagle Market District, Sarris, Pasta Too and other local establishments. 6 p.m. Jan. 25 at Bella Sera, Canonsburg. $100 per person benefits Women of Southwestern PA's charitable grants for organizations assisting women and children in need.


Rebecca Sodergren: and on Twitter: @pgfoodevents.


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